By Sunsara Taylor
Editor’s note: In this column, Truthdig contributor Sunsara Taylor comments on a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control that recommends classifying all women as pre-pregnant—whether they intend to conceive or not. Taylor calls it an audacious leap along the logical fault line that values women as mere fetal incubators.
Not planning on getting pregnant? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t care. As far as it is concerned, if you are one of the 62 million U.S. women of childbearing age, you are pre-pregnant—a vessel. You are a future fetal incubator.
In April, the CDC issued a report detailing measures to be taken to intervene in the life, healthcare and behavior of all women, “from menarche [first occurrence of menstruation] to menopause ... even if they do not intend to conceive.”
The CDC report calls for a radical shift in medical care so that at every point of interaction, women’s doctors are to stage “interventions” to make sure they are healthy and prepared to give birth. Want to take your newborn in for a checkup or your 8-year-old in for a high fever? Expect an “intervention” into your eating habits, weight and behavioral risk factors.
Got diabetes or epilepsy and looking for the care that is best for you? Wrong approach, says the CDC: “Separating childbearing from the management of chronic health problems and infectious diseases places women, their future pregnancies, and their future children at unnecessary risk.”
Noting that attitudes and behavior related to childbearing and childbearing preparedness are “influenced by childhood experiences and prevailing social norms among adults,” the CDC calls for a cultural and media crusade aimed at changing “public attitudes” about “the importance of preconception health behaviors,” including the risks of tobacco use, alcohol, obesity, and diet.
The report bemoans the fact that half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and focuses in on the potential harm caused to fetuses by their female incubators between the time of an unexpected conception and the recognition of pregnancy. Never mind making it easier for women to decide for themselves whether or not to become pregnant. Never mind ensuring that women have the ability to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Not once, in its entire 43 pages, does the CDC’s report even mention birth control or elective abortion.
Instead, the CDC report is framed in and extends the kind of logic that has galvanized the anti-abortion movement for years. Now, not only is the developing life of a fetus—a potential human being—considered more valuable and important than the life of the mother—but the potential life of a nonexistent fetus takes precedence over the life of the woman.
But what is a fetus? It is nothing more than a potential human being. And the only way it can grow into a human, a separate social being, is by being a subordinate part of a woman’s body and her biological processes for months.
It is a very sobering sign of the times that there is so much confusion over the truth that a fully formed woman’s life—and her will—is more valuable than this subordinate part of her own biology. Sobering, too, is the idea of the America we’re headed for should we not see a huge outpouring of rage, furious resistance and indignant, uncompromising insistence that “Women are not incubators!”
Failing that, get prepared for the religious fanatics who terrorize women at the doors of abortion clinics to broaden their harassment against women who enter bars, smoke cigarettes or eat at McDonald’s. Get ready for the prosecution of women who engage in these activities for crimes against their future fetuses. And get ready for calls to weed out and even sterilize women who are deemed by the state to be unfit to bear children.
Sound too extreme? Wake up and look around!
Already, legions of theocratic lawyers are constructing legal defenses for the fundamentalist pharmacists who refuse to fill women’s prescriptions for birth control.
Already, Louisiana has joined South Dakota in banning abortion throughout the state.
Already, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and others have called for the execution of abortion providers.
Already, laws passed to “protect” fetuses have been used to jail people who, lacking safe and destigmatized access to legal abortions, either self-induced an abortion or helped a woman induce her own voluntary abortion.
Consider that the Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, the leader of Virginia-based Human Life International, has called the repressive anti-abortion laws in El Salvador “an inspiration.” As The New York Times Magazine said in describing the situation in El Salvador: “In the event that the woman’s illegal abortion went badly and the doctors have to perform a hysterectomy, then the uterus is sent to the Forensic Institute, where the government’s doctors analyze it and retain custody of her uterus as evidence against her.”
And think what it means that the born-again commander in chief, George W. Bush, has met with and lent political support to the “Snowflakes.” The Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program is a Christian conservative movement that finds women to act as incubators in an effort to bring to term every frozen embryo that would normally be discarded by fertility clinics. Then, in a sick and sinister fashion, they take the resulting babies and parade them around—including in photo ops such as one with President Bush—to crusade against stem cell research and to agitate for the position that a woman’s primary function is to reproduce.
The CDC gives the appearance of being concerned about the high infant mortality rates among uninsured, poor and oppressed women. (And indeed, the need for concern is real: Mortality rates for infants born to black women in Brooklyn are comparable to the rates of many Third World countries.) Its report recommends intensive interventions into the lives of women who are at high risk, singling out race and economics as determining factors. But the “interventions” are not aimed at solving the conditions that cause women to be poor, to lack healthcare or to be trapped in abusive relationships. Instead, the report’s recommendations lay a blueprint for exploiting these women’s underprivileged conditions as a means of further intruding into, and even criminalizing, intimate aspects of their lives.
And when you get right down to it, this report has potentially genocidal implications. By formalizing the idea that certain women chronically put themselves at risk of being less-than-perfect potential mothers, the CDC paves the way for acceptance of the idea that certain women are unfit to reproduce.
Paranoia, you say? Let’s not forget this country’s long and shameful history of removing children from Native Americans who were deemed unfit to raise them. Or its history of forced sterilization of black and Puerto Rican women without healthcare who went to hospitals to give birth.*
The CDC’s report takes a viciously immoral stance toward half of humanity. It needs to be answered—by scientists and doctors refuting the bases of its recommendations; by social scientists and historians bringing to light what has happened in places like Nazi Germany, where all young women were classified as breeders; and most of all by millions of outraged women and men who refuse to march forward into a real-life “Handmaid’s Tale.”
*Reports of this practice continued until the 1970s. See “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty” by Dorothy Roberts or “Maternal Mortality, Population Control, and the War in Women’s Wombs: A Bioethical Analysis of Quinacrine Sterilizations” by Judith A.M. Scully, in 19 Wisconsin International Law Journal 103.
Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution newspaper and sits on the advisory board of The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.
From the BBC